Much as we are worried about the growing influence of digital media, in an age where every aspect of human life is being digitized, to think of bringing our children up in a digitally impaired void is probably the modern day equivalent of the medieval geocentric worldview, believing it’s the sun which revolves around the earth. Basically, untenable.
Therefore, most of the discussion around children and media revolves around controlling screen times. It’s not the best or most holistic solution, but it’s as good a start as any. Let us also warn you, it might not win you any opinion polls around the house! But remember, you're the parent! So you get to make the rules. Simple?
Here are some tips to help you get your family started on a responsible screen diet.
1 The Screen is NOT a Nanny. TV has become the cheapest nanny. Sometimes, moms are compelled to use TV or a smartphone/ tablet to distract their child just so they can catch up on other chores. It's a tough balancing act, we hear you! But using the screen as a nanny sows the seed of digital-dependence frightfully early.
2 Handpick the Content. The undisputed fact is that kids learn by imitation - and they absorb a great deal from media. With 24/7 access to screens nearly everywhere, they are learning more than ever from the screens around them. So random browsing carries a definite risk of exposure to inappropriate content that will have a deeper impact on kids long term than most people realize. Therefore, content is key. What they watch is more important than even how much. Decide what is appropriate to your child’s age and state of development and review it periodically.
3 Set a Schedule. Screen time should not be a filler, robbing the precious minutes of gap-time between other activities. It should also not occupy your child's primetime slot that should ideally be filled with real play. Especially for young kids, in-person social interactions are more important than screens, as it provides face-to-face contact, creative play, hands-on activity and physical movements that build a healthy brain. So decide on when the TV will be on and at what time, the tablet can be accessed.
4 Set the Time Limits. The question is, how much screen time? Well, the answer is: not much. None AT ALL for kids below the age of 2. For kids of the age 2-10, an hour of screen time is enough and for kids from 11-18 two hours is more than enough - across all devices. Setting such screen time curfews is a tough call but hey, sometimes you’ve got to be a tough parent!
5 Gamify. One of the markers for a balanced screen diet could be to link it with other activities, for example, your child’s reading. You could say, 30 minutes of TV after 1 hour of reading a storybook. Or, 30 minutes of video games after 1 hour of actual physical play time. While this helps increase the good entertainment, it also builds liking and preference over time for such healthy activities.
6 Set the Example. You are the most powerful role model for your child. Even without conscious intention, children always gravitate towards the modeled behavior of their parents. If they see you reading a book they’ll follow suit.
7 Set the Stage. Most discipline is aided by the environment. Limit the number of screens in the house. For example, have a single TV screen for the family. It helps when you can keep an eye on your kid’s screen time, so try to have video games and the computer in a common area rather than in their own separate rooms. No screens in the bed room. Yes, you read that right.
8 Fill the Gap. With your new rules in place, you will have opened up a lot of screen-free time for your family. Help them use this creatively. Provide necessary resources like books to read, board games, art supplies, and/or sporting equipment.
9 Make Family Time. Make time for your kids. Playing with them is always the best alternative to watching TV on Sundays. Be more involved in their lives, observe, ask, listen and parent their decisions. You can encourage more family time by incorporating common family activities in all your schedules. Eat together, drive, read, monkey around - and keep the screens off.
10 Act like the Parent. As we said, you aren't going to be popular just now. But you aren't in a popularity contest anyways! For your child's holistic development and future happiness, you’ll have to take “unpopular” decisions. Make these tough decisions and then go ahead and explain as to why it is important.
So now that you have the tools, you have our blessings! Go on and take control of the screens today!